The very term “capitalism” signals the nature of its ideological error: just as the “humanist” revolution placed too much exclusive emphasis on the human order, so the capitalist revolution represents one more step down this same path. While humanism shifted emphasis from God to man, capitalism shifts emphasis from man to things. Traditional civilization had God for its pivot; Renaissance civilization had man; modern civilization has the economy. This last transition amounts to a reversal of the proper hierarchical relationship between material goods and the human being—or capital and labor.
Very early in the development of CST the Church acknowledged the need for cooperation between these two elements in the economic process: “Neither capital can do without labor, nor labor without capital.” But man must always maintain priority, and it is precisely this priority that becomes lost through “the development of a one-sidedly materialistic civilization.”
Once materialism gains sway, it is only a matter of time before the material component of the economic process supersedes the human one:
“In all cases of this sort, in every social situation of this type, there is a confusion or even a reversal of the order laid down from the beginning by the words of the Book of Genesis: man is treated as an instrument of production, whereas he—he alone, independently of the work he does—ought to be treated as the effective subject of work and its true maker and creator. Precisely this reversal of order, whatever the programme or name under which it occurs, should rightly be called ‘capitalism.’ ”
This particular error will reappear whenever man is,
“…treated on the same level as the whole complex of the material means of production, as an instrument and not in accordance with the true dignity of his work—that is to say, where he is not treated as subject and maker, and for this very reason as the true purpose of the whole process of production.”
Here the reader is encouraged to recall what was emphasized earlier in our discussion of morality, which was that the human subject is never to be treated as a mere means. With the nature of man degraded in this way, his relationship with material wealth becomes inverted. Capital then overthrows man as the most significant factor in economic considerations.
 RN, 28.
 LE, 7.
 Section IV, 6d.